Who's Calling Plays for the San Diego Chargers?


Rumors and speculation!  Just kidding, here at Bolts From The Blue we lightly glance over that stuff and maybe discuss it in the comments....but our main posts are all about facts, truths and answers.  So, while this will be a bit of a guessing game, it'll be one with tons of research and statistics built into it.  I guess more than finding out who will be calling the playing in 2009, we'll be delving into who would be the best choice to be calling plays.  Are you ready to find out?  Three possible coaches to win this crown are laid out for you after the jump.

Rob Chudzinski - Probably the most interesting candidate.  His career has centered very much around tight ends.  He started at the University of Miami as their TE coach in 1996, and while keeping that duty he also became the Offensive Coordinator for the Hurricanes in 2001 (when Butch Davis left to coach the Browns).  In his first year as OC, the Hurricanes went undefeated and destroyed Nebraska for the National Championship.  In his next two seasons the team went 12-1 (losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl) and 11-2 (beating Florida State in the Orange Bowl).  During his tenure as the Miami TE coach, the team produced NFL standouts Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr.

In 2004, Butch Davis brought him up to the big leagues to become the TE coach of the Cleveland Browns.  Mid-way through a 4-12 season, Davis and his staff were fired and Chud became the Browns' interim Offensive Coordinator.  After the season he was let go and signed on to be the TE coach for the San Diego Chargers, who had a budding young superstar TE in Antonio Gates.  In two seasons with the team, Chud continued Gates on the road to the NFL Hall of Fame and helped further develop his blocking technique.  In 2007, Rob was hired as the Offensive Coordinator by Romeo Crennel and the Cleveland Browns.

Similar to his first year as OC with the Hurricanes, Chud's first full year of calling plays for the Browns seemed almost magical.  Going back more than ten years, the Browns offense had never been ranked higher than 19th in terms of points scored and never higher than 23rd in terms of offensive yards in total.  That's pitiful.  In each of the five seasons before hiring Chud, the Browns had a different starting QB.  They were about to have another.  Chud and Romeo Crennel watched over a QB competition in Browns training camp, with Charlie Frye just barely winning out over two young, unproven kids in Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.  Frye went into the Week 1 game as the starter and quickly completed 4 of his first 10 passes, while throwing 1 interception.  That was all Chud needed to see.

In a move that would eventually make shockwaves around the entire league, Rob inserted Derek Anderson as the starter and the rest in Browns history.  In his first year of calling plays, the Browns ranked 8th in offensive yards and 8th in points scored.  They went 10-6 (their best record in 13 years) and narrowly missed the playoffs.  Although the team had a stud WR in Braylon Edwards and a stud TE in Kellen Winslow Jr., the rest of the team was not filled with superstars.  A post-prison Jamal Lewis was the starting RB and Joe Jurevicius started opposite Edwards.  Those are the only names you might recognize.  Yet somehow, Chudzinski was getting the best out of his entire offensive, from the line to the receivers and everyone in between.  He had an unbelievably bright path ahead of him and was even given some consideration for open head coaching positions in the offseason before the 2008 season.

Then it fell apart.  Derek Anderson lost any consistency he had in 2007 (he dropped from 29 TDs/19 Ints to 9/8) and three large factors in that were Kellen Winslow (missed 8 games due to injury), Braylon Edwards (went from 80 receptions and 16 TDs to 55 and 3, with lots of dropped passes) and Donte Stallworth (signed to bring explosiveness and replace Jurevicius, he played in only 7 games, caught 17 passes and 1 TD).  Basically, injuries and Braylon Edwards horrible case of butterfingers were the demise of what Chud had built just one year previously.  The team ended up 4-12 and Chud ended up out of a job.  Although, it's curious that he did considering the team showed flashes of brilliance when everyone was healthy and on the same page.  Look at these scores:

Week 6: Browns 35, Giants 14

Week 9: Browns 27, Ravens 37

Week 10: Browns 30, Broncos 34

Week 11: Browns 29, Bills 27

Those first two are not easy defenses to put points on.  I think Chudzinski's schemes are fine.  I think the problems the 2008 Browns faced were: not believing they could win because of a porous defense, getting nothing from Donte Stallworth, getting a half-season from Winslow Jr. and the increased pressure getting to Braylow Edwards.  But, Cleveland's loss is the Chargers' gain.  The San Diego Chargers signed Chud during the offseason back as the Tight Ends Coach and also as an Assistant Head Coach.  Will he be calling the plays?  Maybe.  He really only has one guy to compete against, because....

 

Clarence Shelmon - The common question that has been asked about Shelmon, the Chargers' OC for the past two seasons, is "What does he do?"  I understand the confusion, because in the past two seasons he has not called any play.  Norv Turner has called the plays and never really cleared up what Shelmon's responsibilities are.  Well, the question was asked so much that the Chargers themselves posted an answer on Chargers.com:

After spending 16 seasons solidifying his reputation as one of the NFL’s top running backs coaches, Clarence Shelmon was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2007. In his first season manning this new post, the Chargers won the AFC West and advanced to their first AFC Championship Game since 1994. Even with his new position, Shelmon still has a tremendous hand in the Chargers’ run game. Week-in and week-out, he helps coordinate the Chargers’ running game and even though Head Coach Norv Turner calls the offensive plays, he often consults with Shelmon before sending in a run play.

So there you have it.  Shelmon is still the running backs coach, he just gets to talk with the head coach during games.  Also, he gets a fancier title and probably a pay raise.  If the Chargers' continue to show up in the playoffs every year, you'll eventually hear Shelmon's name come up for open head coaching spots.  That wouldn't happen with a running backs coach, so I understand why the Chargers did it for him.  It helps him out, keeps him happy and keeps him around.  However, it's evident that he has no experience and possibly no interest in the passing game so there's no chance he'll be calling the offensive plays in 2009.

 

Norv Turner - He can call plays for days.  Quite simply, one of the greatest offensive minds to ever be a part of the NFL.  Norv had a big hand in changing the way the game was played with the offenses he created in Dallas.  Turner is credited for much of the success of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin as well as others.  He brilliantly drew up running plays and formations that were years ahead of their time.  His style as an OC was similar to the West Coast Offense in that it relied heavily on the pass, even on short-yardage downs, but he still kept the running game as the starting point when he could.  Turner's playcalling over the years has been heralded as one of the best, as he's able to keep defenses off-balance and open up holes for the running and passing games. 

But then....here's the question.  Can a Head Coach also act as the Offensive Coordinator, or even just call the plays each Sunday, without spreading himself too thin?  This question has faced other Head Coaches around the league before, and they've all experimented in different ways.  Eventually, it seems, they hire somebody they trust to be the "Assistant Head Coach" and call the plays, but that may not necessarily be what's happening in San Diego.  Coaches have been hired as "Assistant Head Coach" before as a way to keep their name at one of the top coaching tiers for when a Head Coaching position opens up.

Personally, I think we need somebody else calling the plays.  In the past two years it's become very evident to me that the first quarter offense is usually stale.  It's almost like the defense knows what's coming.  I think that's a result of Norv not having time to come up with a creative script for the first 15 plays, so we're basically running the same one each week.  Then after that, which usually ends up being late in the 2nd quarter or sometimes even the 2nd half, he sees how the defense is reacting and makes the proper adjustments.  I guess it's hard to argue with his record and the stats (the Chargers were 2nd in points score last season), but if the offense could start every game hot out of the gate I think it would be a much easier ride for the players, coaches and fans.

 

So....who's calling the plays in 2009?  I think we'll find out in the preseason.  Chud may even get a test run during those games to see if Norv likes what's being called.  If I had to put money on it, I'd say we're put in a situation where Chudzinski calls the plays unless the team is playing in a tight game in the 4th quarter or overtime.  Then Norv would come in and do it the way he wants it.  The Eagles played with this scenario for a while with Andy Reid and Marty Morningweg and it seemed to work well.  Although Chudzinski could play a role similar to Shelmon's, just with the passing game.  We're going to have to wait and see for a definitive answer, but if I was forced to put money on any situation it would be Chud taking over most or all of the playcalling duties.  What do you think?

Do you have any thoughts about Bolts From The Blue?  Any tips you want to send our way?  Whenever you have something to say, don't hesitate to e-mail me directly.

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